By George Lardner
Jr. Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 10, 1998; Page A03 November 9,
Panel raises questions about JFK autopsy
WASHINGTON - The latest batch of John F. Kennedy assassination
documents raises new questions about an examination of
the president's brain and lays out unresolved discrepancies
in other medical evidence.
The more than 400,000 pages of records being made public
at the National Archives Monday were compiled in the
past four years by the Assassination Records Review Board,
an independent panel that Congress set up to collect
and release material related to Kennedy's death in
Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.
Congress did not direct the review board to reinvestigate
the assassination, and the panel issued no formal opinions
on any aspect of the controversial murder. But in the
board's effort to expand and clarify the record, details
- Suggest two different brain exams may have been
conducted at the Bethesda, Md., Naval Medical Center,
raising questions about the authenticity of the brain
- Fail to resolve discrepancies between how physicians
at Parkland Hospital in Dallas described Kennedy's
head injury immediately following the shooting and
how it was subsequently described by pathologists at
Although the Warren Commission concluded that Kennedy
was shot from behind by a single gunman, how Kennedy
was assassinated and from what direction he was shot
have nonetheless been hotly debated for 35 years. The
review board studied old testimony and medical evidence
and re-interviewed witnesses, but still was unable to
resolve certain issues.
''There are questions about the supplemental brain exam
and the photos that were taken. There are inconsistencies
in the testimony of the autopsy doctors about when that
exam took place,'' said Jeremy Gunn, executive director
and general counsel of the board, which closed out its
work in September. ''These are serious issues. The records
are now out there for the public to evaluate.''
Three military pathologists agree they conducted an autopsy
of Kennedy's entire body at Bethesda immediately after
it was flown back from Dallas. But the doctors offer
conflicting recollections about the timing of a subsequent
Two doctors, J. Thornton Boswell and James Humes, told
the review board that the brain exam occurred two or
three days after Kennedy's death. Initially, Humes told
the Warren Commission that he, Boswell and a third pathologist,
Dr. Pierre Finck, were present when the brain was examined.
But when he testified to the review board in 1996, Humes
did not list Finck among those present. Boswell maintains
Finck was not there.
On the other hand, Finck says the brain exam did not
occur until much later. In a memo he wrote to his commanding
officer 14 months after Kennedy was assassinated, Finck
said Humes did not call him until Nov. 29, 1963 - seven
days after Kennedy's death - to say it was time to examine
the brain. In the memo, Finck said all three pathologists
examined the brain together and that ''color and black-and-white
photographs are taken by the U.S. Navy photographer.''
The conflicting testimony caused Douglas Horne, chief
analyst for military records, to conclude in a 32-page
memo that two separate brain exams may have been conducted,
''contrary to the official record as it has been presented
to the American people.''
''If true, Dr. Finck's account of a brain exam separate
and distinct from the first one would mean that Drs.
Humes and Boswell were present at two different brain
exams,'' he writes.
Humes was ill and could not be interviewed. In a telephone
interview, Boswell reiterated that the brain was examined
at the initial autopsy of the body and only once more
at a separate brain exam a few day later.
''I doubt very much that we would have called
him (Finck) back over for that,'' Boswell said.
Boswell added that the only photos of the brain
were taken at the autopsy.
This conflicts with testimony the board obtained from
Navy photographer John Stringer, who said he took pictures
of the brain two or three days after the autopsy. Stringer
also testified that official photos of the brain preserved
at the archives do not match those he remembers taking.
He cites discrepancies in the angles from which they
were shot and the type of film used.
In addition, former FBI Agent Francis O'Neill Jr., who
watched doctors remove Kennedy's brain the night he died,
told the review board that the archives' photos do not
resemble what he saw. ''I did not recall it (the brain)
being that large,'' O'Neill said.
Throughout the years, doctors who treated Kennedy in
Dallas said his head wound was about the size of a large
egg at the back of the head, behind his right ear. The
Dallas doctors told reporters then that they believed
Kennedy was shot from the front - a belief that conflicted
with the Warren Commission's later conclusion of a single
shooter firing from behind.
Humes, chief pathologist for the autopsy at Bethesda,
agreed there was a wound to the right rear of Kennedy's
head, but he told the board that it was a small entry
wound, not an egg-sized exit wound. In contrast to observations
in Dallas, Humes said there also was massive damage to
the top of Kennedy's skull and right side forward of